The young Sailor couldn’t hold up. Her friends were trying to get her to stand but her legs would not cooperate. She had just gotten off the phone. Her grandmother passed away. We were in the middle of the Persian Gulf and she would not be able to attend the funeral since that is reserved for only emergencies involving immediate family members. I watched as she sat on the floor and rocked back and forth with her head in her hands. I wondered what I would do if I ever got a call saying my mother was sick or dying or dead. I imagined it would look something like this…
I laugh now but it was around that time my anxiety kicked in and insomnia took over my life. Thoughts of losing loved ones while halfway around the world consumed me. Every night after my shift I would lie in my coffin rack and obsess about death. And not my own death, even though I was housed on a nuclear vessel. Sometimes the ship succeeded in eventually rocking me to sleep. Other times I had to reluctantly take sleeping pills. And then, “REVELLIE REVEILLE! ALL HANDS ON DECK!” It’s amazing how quickly six in the morning comes when you’re not counting how many hours you have left to get some decent sleep. I never got used to that announcement. We dragged ourselves to the head — where there was always a wait — to freshen up before heading down to the galley for the same breakfast we’d been having for 6 weeks and counting: powdered eggs, rubbery pancakes, and ham. Bacon was a luxury. There was always a line for made-to-order omelets. Half the line was night shift personnel hoping to get at least one decent meal before getting off. I always took my time getting upstairs to the hangar deck for morning muster because it was just my chief reiterating some shit and basically
I was an Aviation Support Equipment Technician. Jack of all trades. Master of none. I’m not going to explain what the job entailed because I was horrible at it. Anyway, lunch was just as disappointing as breakfast. Once I found bones in my tuna salad. I didn’t eat tuna for years afterward. If I wasn’t thinking about death, I was wondering what I should eat first once we pulled into the next port. It was always a bone-in ribeye, medium well.
I know the Navy commercials say “Accelerate Your Life,” but life out to sea grew monotonous. Breakfast, Spirit of 76. Spirit of fucking 76? The Reagan’s name for field day. That shit makes no sense. Anyway, it was an entire hour of cleaning. What normal commands called field day. Basically, I swept or wiped the same spot over and over while shit talking and/or blasting music in my ears. After Spirit we got our work orders and went about our business fixing shit and preventing shit from going down. Supporting the squadrons. Then lunch, more work, dinner, work, and then evening muster.
Every now and then dinner would be surf and turf. Usually for a special occasion like a holiday or birthday month celebrations. But sometimes the lines would be so horrendous that I would just go to the ship’s store and get a cup of Ramen. Sea life was like Groundhog Day. Sometimes I would randomly scream “LAND!” and watch people drop everything and run to the hanger deck opening only to angrily discover nothing but water, all for my amusement. I was easily amused.
Of course there were things we would do to pass the time after we got off our shifts. Chess and basketball tournaments, sumo wrestling (don’t ask), cards, dominoes, and of course secret sex with your sea boo. Aaaaahhhh sex out to sea. I never had any. I couldn’t imagine it being a comfortable experience. Maybe I didn’t want it badly enough. But some people got quite creative. I remember when they found a young couple in one of the decontamination booths, which would have made more sense if we were actually out to sea. I guess getting a hotel room wasn’t dangerous enough for them. They were caught, shamed, and punished. They didn’t see another port for the rest of the deployment. I know people who had sex regularly on that ship for years and never got caught. You just have to be smart about it. Our last night in that port, the Chaplin came on the PA system and condemned the Sailors who have sex on the ship. He then started singing “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.” I was lying in my rack, howling with laughter. I swear that wasn’t just coffee in that man’s mug.
That crazy Chaplin and the people I called my friends on that ship, which seemed to spend more days out to see than not (And more time out to see than any other ship in San Diego. I know this because people from other ships would crack on us at the Navy Exchange. Talmbout “Damn! The Reagan going out again!?”). But I digress. These people kept me sane while haze gray and underway. I know it sounded like I was bitching up there, but most of my memories are wonderful. We worked hard while out to sea (12 hours on/12 off), but we played even harder. In fact a little too hard. I’d be lying if I said I remember how I got back to the ship every time. Liberty buddies are life savers. I had the best. I was a good buddy too. I had to physically dress one of my shipmates one morning after a night of binge drinking. We overslept in our hotel room and were extremely close to missing ship’s movement. Fort Lauderdale and Miami were lit. It was pure debauchery when we hit a port. I was going through my pics from deployments and was like
I can’t post these. Some of them I would have to get permission from my friends to post. And I beg my friends to run their pics by me first before putting it on Facebook and tagging me for my aunts to see me acting a straight fool. I did some things that I’m not proud of. Let’s just say a good time was had by all, particularly in ports like the aforementioned, Brisbane, Honolulu, Rio, Dubai, Singapore, and Santa Barbara. Yes, Santa Barbara was surprisingly lit AF. Old, rich, white people know how to party.
The Navy treated me right and there are times I wished I had a do over. Perhaps I would take it more seriously. I was a terrible Sailor who never gained any military bearing. My uniform was always on point though. Nobody could call me a shit bag. And I see a lot of memes making fun of veterans. Saying we only joined because we had no other choice. It’s true in some cases. I know some people who signed up to avoid jail time. I had a choice. Most of the people I know had a choice. Do I struggle and work two jobs to pay my way through community college, or do I get this GI Bill money and attend a good school? Hmmmmmm… AND I get to travel? I’ve been to places most of my high school friends can only dream of visiting. So I don’t give a fuck about what you say. I’m proud of the choice I made and the experience I’ve gained. Not too proud of some of the memories, but I lived damn it!
Happy Veterans Day!